I had a hard time getting into the Christmas Spirit this year.
It isn’t because I don’t like Christmas—I definitely do. It’s just that when December rolled around, I felt as though I’d already had two big winter holidays. My daughter’s wedding, in mid-November, had all the elements of a major holiday: the stress and excitement leading up to it, the glow of the actual event, and the days of rest and recovery afterward. Preparing Thanksgiving dinner just 12 days later left me feeling wiped-out, and gearing-up for more festivity so soon felt overwhelming.
To get into the holiday spirit, I did something I like to do every December; I watched Hallmark Christmas movies—a lot of them! I love these movies. Even if the story is cheesy (they usually are) and not quite believable, it is likely to leave me feeling happier and more festive. Something I especially like about these stories is that they never seem to include any unredeemable characters. If a character does something bad at the beginning of the story, by the end it’s either been revealed that there was a noble—if misguided—reason for their actions, or they have a change of heart which leads the viewer to believe they’ll never repeat the offense again.
I generally feel slightly guilty for watching so many of these movies, but this year watching them seemed to have a higher purpose.
Midway through December I made plans to get together with a good friend. She’s too young to be my mother, but mother is the role I’ve given her in my life. Sitting across the table from her at Panera (one of my real mother’s favorite places) with a cup of coffee in hand, always makes me feel happy and loved. I was especially looking forward to this because I miss my mother so much more at Christmas time. My plan for the day was to drive to New Jersey, have breakfast with my friend, and then spend the afternoon Christmas shopping.
But I woke up to a cold house, and quickly realized that our heater wasn’t working. My husband inspected it and was pretty sure the problem was with something called a thermocoupler. He’s replaced those before—in boilers in past homes, but the configuration of this unit was such that he couldn’t access it to replace it himself. So, after scanning Yelp reviews to find an HVAC company, I made an appointment and was ready to call my friend, cancel our breakfast, then sit and wait for help to arrive. But because Bill wanted to see how the technician swapped out the new part, and didn’t want me to be disappointed, he took the day off from work and sent me on my way for what would now be a late lunch.
I was in a hurry. I was excited to see my friend. Our schedules are busy, so we don’t get together as often as I’d like. I’d already kept her waiting and I wanted to get there as quickly as I could. Before dashing out my front door, I made sure everything I’d need for the day was in my handbag. As I checked the contents of my wallet, for some unknown reason I decided to put my driver’s license and my credit card in a pocket in my purse instead of in my wallet with everything else.
When I arrived at the restaurant, I jumped out of the car and hurried inside. My time with my friend was wonderful, as always, and it wasn’t until I said goodbye and drove across the parking lot to Sam’s Club that the day took an unexpected turn. I went to retrieve my membership card before getting out of the car and I couldn’t find my wallet. I checked the floor of the car and between the seats, but it wasn’t there. I drove back to Panera, retracing my steps, but there was no sign of the wallet, and no one had turned it in.
Because I’d kept my credit card separate, I was still able to do my shopping. I even had a ten dollar bill tucked with it, which meant I’d be able to pay the bridge toll to get back to Philly. I decided not to let myself panic. I decided to enjoy the day.
Once I got home, I called my bank to cancel my debit card and I learned that someone had tried to use it—at a Target store in New Jersey, near where I’d had lunch.
I was oddly relieved. At least now I knew where I’d dropped the wallet—it must have fallen when I got out of the car before lunch. I knew I could stop looking for it and begin the process of replacing the various cards I’d had inside.
But I was also disappointed. Everyone in my family has a story of finding something—a purse, a wallet or a credit card—then going to heroic measures to track down the owner. Obviously, whoever found my wallet was not going to be trying to find me. (And, hello, I’m on Facebook, so it would’ve only taken five minutes.)
But, even though I was disappointed, I couldn’t bring myself to be angry. Those Hallmark movies I’d been watching had set me up for an unexpected side-effect: without even trying, I was envisioning the person who’d tried to use my debit card as someone who was in dire need. In one scenario, I imagined a worried young mother trying to buy infant formula, in another, I imagined a homeless man trying to buy a winter coat, and in yet another, a father trying to buy groceries for his hungry family. In my imagination, each of them felt guilty for attempting to spend someone else’s money, but acted out of desperation. As I went about my day, my subconscious was building little stories around each of these imaginary characters. I felt compassion for these people and I couldn’t bring myself to be mad at them, and that felt really good.
It felt like Christmas.
So, someone else may have found my wallet, but I ended up finding my Christmas Spirit, and I’d say that was a fair trade.
(Kind of sounds like the plot of a Hallmark movie, doesn’t it?)
Photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash